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My research into resilience started properly in 2007, but my story of curiosity around resilience really started back in the early 2000’s. I was a senior leader within the mobile industry, living at weekends in Edinburgh but commuting up and down to London each week, and often travelling to see staff and clients around the country. I had many years of leadership experience, international experience, an MBA from IMD, and was could therefore really tick the boxes in terms of skills. What I hadn’t done I think in my previous experience was really develop my leadership, and I think this started to happen in the mobile job.
And I came a bit of a cropper. Not on performance – oh goodness no! Performance was king, and I was successful. Not on career progression – oh goodness no! I was doing ok and having a pretty good run of things. No, I came a cropper on getting my life to work so I could be content. In my mid 30’s, running up and down the country like a yoyo, tired and a bit lonely (I had moved to Edinburgh for family reasons but didn’t really know anyone there), feeling unfit, struggling with a back problem and paying for an osteopath every week who only explained that if I didn’t carry such heavy bags and strengthened my muscles I wouldn’t have to pay him every week, and failing to create any real local friendships never mind find a loving, long-term partner. I didn’t seem to have enough time, and the time that I did have was spent in recovery, not in anything that was new.
I was definitely stuck in Break Even. I was doing well in work, but out of kilter in so many other ways in my life. I looked for help, and didn’t really find a solution that seemed right for me – leadership training seemed all about skills and this wasn’t a skill thing. Personal development seemed all about relationships. Incidentally, at the time, the coaching industry wasn’t really mature and I didn’t spot that this would have indeed been my solution.
Instead, I found myself creating my first step towards my resilience, which was managing my energy. My main discovery was that I didn’t have the energy to be more efficient, and instead, needed to input into my energy, rather than running in dry all the time. I learnt to do this specifically and well. I knew day to day, week to week, month to month, how to manage the energy so it was in surplus. Despite the pressures of the job and of the travel, I managed to shift things quite dramatically. Then the major shift came in 2002 when I finally had the courage to jump out of the safety of the corporate world, and forge my own career. This whole idea of energy I thought would be useful, so I set about trying to find a home for where I could develop it.
I ended up alongside ‘happiness ‘coaches and tree huggers.
You may laugh (I do now!), but I did find the different perspective very thought-provoking, it made me see how other people live and think. But in the end, I was too business -like and I decided this energy thing would have to wait. Instead I became an executive coach, and that seemed to fit pretty well. A second career started. And one that allowed for oh, so much more life! I made proper friends, got married, had two children, and life was altogether completely different! My resilience was definitely higher. It moved out of the stuckness of Breakeven, further from Bounce Back, but still quite prone to ups and downs. The ups and downs weren’t quite so steep any more.
After my first child, I found my confidence in returning to work was very low. I felt vulnerable, somehow my layers of protection as a self-employed business person had melted away in this world of loving a little baby. At the same time however, I felt more resilient. I was more flexible, I was more present to what was going on around me, I was more responsive. I had learnt a lot about what I could control and what I couldn’t. (Getting out the door with a toddler in the morning, in time for work, with all clothes on and shoes on the right feet was a real feat! )
I’m aware for the men reading this book, this may sound like a somewhat trivial experience in comparison to the demands of business. But this was a profound change for me. Day to day, I really had to learn flexibility. Telling a wee one to do things doesn’t work. Instead I had to work towards the front door, and handle anything that came up. As a control freak, this was big news.
At this point my resilience wasn’t grounded, but it definitely was in development. On the one hand I had lost some confidence in my business context, but on the other hand, was learning a new mindset that would set me up for a much greater resilience than ever before. This sowed the seeds of the research into resilience.
Since publishing my initial results on The Resilience Engine in 2009, I have lived my life by the ideas in this book. My resilience development has been both transformational for my life and my work, and it has been simple. Overall, I hover either at Breakthrough, or very near to it. My capacity doubled – I was able to take much, much more on, and still perform very well. In all domains, not just in work. I was able to work 3.5 days per week, earn a good salary, contribute to leadership conversation that are dear to my heart, lead on an innovative school programme for inclusion, and still find time to bat a ball on a tennis court.
I live my life by resilience, and notice daily where my resilience is, attending to whatever I need to within it, so that it is sustained. Since I believe in the model, I accept many things, like shifts backwards, more readily. That in turn, helps me alter it back towards a level that is really breakthrough.
One example is this year, I found myself shifting right back to oscillating between coping and break-even. My family moved house, and I dealt with all the legals and the practical end of selling and buying. That was on top of a demanding workload. As many of you who have moved house knows, it is stressful. What was interesting for me was that I really didn’t find the whole business of showing the house or cleaning the house daily for showing, or any of the to-ing and fro-ing around appointments stressful, they were just a drain on my energy. However, we did have two major surprises. The first is that it wasn’t so easy to sell. We hadn’t realised, but our apartment, although beautiful, was quirky. So few actual offers came through, and for a while, we were thinking of many alternative plans for how to continue to live there but get more space outside of the house. A lot of ifs and buts and maybe’s going on at the time of great demand. The second surprise, and the one that caused real stress, was the stuckness of the legal process when we did go into a sale process. It got very heated, there were many issues, and a few times, the deal was going to go belly up. We had already committed ourselves emotionally, mentally and financially to a new house, and had to sale.
I found myself navigating that legal stuckness, head-on, and full tilt. It worked, but gosh, it completely floored me. I coped with it all (Coping), I performed well when I needed (Bounce Back), but the overall cost to me was very high. Even after a long holiday after the house sale had gone through and we had actually moved, I still felt unable to be creative, to do new things, to be re-energised. I’d got myself back to neutral energy, but it still wasn’t in surplus. And work was still going, so I still had to keep going.
At this point in time I can say that having accepted where I was – in Bounce Back, rather than really going round the whoosh, it has shifted a lot. That acceptance was only a few weeks back. In recognising where I was, and accepting it, it meant I knew what to do. Because I have experienced my own resilience as high, I know the conditions for that. So I can just put in place immediately a set of actions that allows for these conditions, and lo and behold, my resilience is again much higher. Not quite at breakthrough (life is still very demanding now for other reasons) but very near it. What have I done? Paid attention to my energy, allowing more space for downtime, exercise, being outdoors in nature, being with my children, being with family and friends. We’ve got the house more in order and this has helped me feel calm. I have enlisted more help in the business areas that are very demanding. And I’ve taken on a coach, allowing me to get perspective on the whole situation. There’s more to be sorted, but gosh, it has been amazingly different.
My recent resilience dynamic looks something like this:
This dynamic nature of resilience is evident in my life. And I know I can be at a very high resilience. When I am, my capacity is incredibly high and I live abundantly. I see this now as my life’s work and am happy to share it with you.
Senior Executive Coach and Resilience Researcher